Life Design

“What Is It?” Warm-Up Activity and Variations

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The premise of the ‘What is it?’ activity is quite simple: give someone an object and ask them what it is.

Laurie Churchman used this activity as part of introductions at the beginning of the JHU Carey Business School’s, ‘Design Thinking for Innovative Problem-Solving‘ course. When introducing ourselves, we stated our: name, role, and what we thought the object was.

She used two objects that looked like this sugar cube holder, but without the top. She didn’t tell us what the object was until we all introduced ourselves. We then reflected on what could have impacted our interpretations.

This was a quick and fun warm-up activity for a group of 30+ individuals. The archaeologist in me loved hearing different interpretations of the same object. It also set the tone for the workshop: fun, informative, and condensed.

I could also see how this activity could be adapted and used in different situations. Here are two variations that I came up with:

It’s Actually A…

Take a known object and ask participants to give an alternate interpretation of it.
Example: This scrunchie is actually an exercise band for a small monkey
Good For: Helping participants start reimagining familiar things in a different light

They Use It As A…

Each participant takes on the perspective of a different user or user group of their choosing and offers an interpretation of a known or unknown object.
Example: Painters (user group) use scrunchies to stamp designs on walls.
Good For: Encouraging participants to empathize with various user perspectives

Closing Thoughts

Warm-up activities can help energize participants and set the tone for the work you will embark on. There are plenty to choose from and the challenge will be finding ones that fit the purpose of your scope of work.

What are your thoughts on this warm-up activity and its variations? Let me know in the comments.

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